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Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Playoffs 2017: Preview of first-round matchup

Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Playoffs 2017: Preview of first-round matchup

Round One: Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Caps record vs. Toronto this season: 2-1-0

4-2 loss at Toronto on Nov. 26
6-5 overtime win vs. Toronto on Jan. 3
4-1 win at Toronto on April 4

Series schedule

Game 1: April 13 in Washington, 7 p.m. on CSN
Game 2: April 15 in Washington, 7 p.m. on CSN
Game 3: April 17 in Toronto, 7 p.m. on CSN
Game 4: April 19 in Toronto, 7 p.m. on CSN
Game 5 (if necessary): April 21 in Washington, TBD on CSN
Game 6 (if necessary): April 23 in Toronto, TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): April 25 in Washington, TBD on CSN

[Related: 10 best Capitals players of all time]

Offensive preview

It’s no secret how the Maple Leafs got here. With a fantastic collection of young offensive talent, Toronto reached the playoffs a year ahead of schedule. Rookie Auston Matthews is the real deal as he led the team in scoring with 40 goals and 69 points. William Nylander and Mitch Marner were also major contributors with 61 points apiece. That young core mixed with some veteran pieces like James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri helped push the Leafs to 3.05 goals per game, good for fifth in the NHL.

Washington’s offense won’t catch anyone by surprise. In addition to superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps are incredibly deep down the middle with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle. The Caps boast three lines with scoring talent and can easily roll four lines without fear of a major drop-off from the top unit to the fourth. The Caps finished the season as the NHL’s third highest scoring offense at 3.18 GPG.

Defensive preview

Toronto games were must-watch all season long not just because of their incredible offensive talent, but because no Maple Leafs lead was safe. Toronto gave away two-goal leads like it was going out of style. Defense was a major issue for the Leafs this season as they allowed 2.85 goals per game, the lowest among all playoff teams. By contrast, Washington had the top defense in the NHL, allowing only 2.16 goals against. On 29 other teams, Kevin Shattenkirk would be a top six defenseman. On Toronto, he would be on the top pair. For the Caps, he’s on the third. That just shows you the depth Washington has on the blue line.

Goaltending preview

The Jonathan Bernier, James Reimer tandem was mercifully broken up in Toronto over the offseason as the Leafs traded for Frederik Andersen to step in and be their No. 1. He did not disappoint with a .918 save percentage and 4 shutouts. Of the Leafs’ 40 wins this season, only seven were earned by someone other than Andersen.

While Andersen has proven to be a serviceable starter, his numbers pale in comparison to Braden Holtby, who is proving his Vezina-winning 2015-16 season was no fluke. Incredibly, Holtby surpassed most of his stats from last season including GAA (2.07), save percentage (.925) and shutouts (9).

Special teams preview

As good as the Caps are on the power play, Toronto actually finished with a higher percentage of 23.8 (vs. Washington’s 23.1), good for second in the NHL. Despite their defensive woes, the Leafs even managed a respectable penalty kill with a kill rate of 82.5-percent, 10th in the NHL. The Caps were only marginally better with 83.8-percent on the penalty kill. While Washington’s superiority in offense, defense and goaltending can’t be denied, special teams is actually a push.

Coaching preview

Barry Trotz joined Toronto head coach Mike Babcock’s staff for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey in the fall of 2017. These are two coaches who know each other extremely well. That will add an extra element to this matchup as both coaches try to out-fox the other. As good of a coach as Trotz is, he does not boast the same credentials as Babcock who has won a Stanley Cup and reached the Finals three times.

Injury concerns

Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak both suffered injuries in Sunday’s regular season finale against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Neither player was on the ice on Tuesday for Toronto’s practice. Babcock said after Sunday’s game that he did not expected Zaitsev to miss any time so perhaps Tuesday’s absence is just a precaution.

Maple Leafs starting goalie Frederik Andersen did not play on Sunday after taking a heavy hit in Saturday’s game. He did, however, practice on Tuesday.

Tyler Bozak was also absent from practice on Tuesday.

John Carlson missed the last four games of the regular season due to a lower-body injury. On Tuesday when the Caps held their first playoff practice, Carlson was on the ice, but he was not skating with his normal partner Karl Alzner. Instead, he skated on the “fourth pair” with Taylor Chorney. Clearly his status for Thursday’s Game 1 remains in doubt.

Who has the edge?

Washington is better offensively, defensively and in net. Mike Babcock is one of the top coaches in the NHL and Toronto does boast a lot of young talent, but it is not their time yet. The Leafs’ defense will be their downfall in this series.

More Capitals: Bovada releases Stanley Cup odds, Caps are not the favorites

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Do the Caps have the offense to win the Stanley Cup?

Do the Caps have the offense to win the Stanley Cup?

The bye week and the all-star break are upon us meaning we will have to wait until Jan. 27 for the Capitals to take the ice again for a game. With the season over halfway done and the Feb. 24 trade deadline rapidly approaching, the focus of the season now shifts towards the playoffs.

Washington has certainly done enough at this point to show they are a playoff team, but just how good are they? Are they a true contender or are they destined for an early exit?

Over the next few days, I will examine the team to answer if it is good enough on offense, defense and in net to win a Cup and, if not, what they must do to improve by April.

Today’s question: Do the Caps have the offense to win the Stanley Cup?

Team stats
3.55 goals per game (1st in the NHL)
20.3-percent power play (13th in the NHL)

Goal leaders
1. Alex Ovechkin 34
2. Jakub Vrana 22
3. T.J. Oshie 18

Assist leaders
1. John Carlson 47
2. Nicklas Backstrom 29
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov 26

Point leaders
1. John Carlson 60
2. Alex Ovechkin 50
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov 42

Just in case you forgot about Ovechkin, he just let everyone know that yes, he is still outrunning Father Time with eight goals in the past three games. He remains one of the top scorers in the league, that is beyond dispute and so is this team's the top-six.

Backstrom, Wilson, Vrana, Kuznetsov and Oshie round out one of the best top two lines in the NHL. There are only a few minor concerns with this group.

Vrana and Kuznetsov have proven to be streaky performers. When they are hot, they are among the top offensive players in the NHL. Vrana is actually tied with David Pastrnak for third in the NHL in even-strength goals with 21. He is as dangerous a goal-scorer as just about anyone in the league. And everyone knows how good Kuznetsov can be at his peak. Just look at the 2018 Cup run.

You just have to cross your fingers and hope Vrana and Kuznetsov don’t get cold in the postseason because when their production tapers off, it craters.

Moving on to the bottom-six, let’s start with the fourth line because it is easier. Brendan Leipsic, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway is one of, if not the outright best fourth line in hockey. They are able to hem opponents into the offensive zone and allow very little in the way of scoring opportunities. If you put any credence into things like Corsi, Nic Dowd is the best on the team with a Corsi-For percentage of 57.22 while Leipsic is 54.04 and Hathaway is 54.43. In a nutshell, what that means is this line is generating a heck of a lot more offensive opportunities than it is allowing which is a huge asset to have for a fourth line.

What’s more, these guys are the kind of players you hate to play against. Hathaway and Leipsic both play with an edge and Leipsic has a fair amount of speed as well. They have to make sure they limit the penalties they take, but otherwise this line is a huge asset.

That brings us to the third line.

While the offense is starting to pick up slightly, overall the numbers have just not been there. Lars Eller is doing fine with 11 goals and 16 assists, but Richard Panik is having a tough first year with five goals and five assists while Carl Hagelin has only three goals and eight assists and that’s including the two goals he scored in the past week.

Even as the line continues to improve, I do not think at its peak it is going to prove to be as good offensively as once hoped.

The third line has definitely found a role as a shutdown line, however, which is how Reirden has been utilizing them of late, using them to shut-down one of the opposition’s top lines both to limit their offense and also to free up Ovechkin’s line by getting it away from that matchup.

That’s easier to do at home, now Reirden has to figure out just how to best utilize the third line one the road where it is tougher to get the matchups you want.

Overall, however, this line is trending in the right direction. The power play, however, is not.

Though it ranks 13th in the NHL, that percentage is being propped up by a good start. Since Dec. 1, the power play ranks 30th in the NHL at 14.1-percent. The offense has just been non-existent. The struggles have clearly gone to the head of the players because it becomes a comedy of errors on the ice every time the team gets the man advantage. Reirden has tried Vrana on the top unit in Kuznetsov’s spot, but that spot is not well suited for Vrana as he is a sniper and Kuznetsov plays primarily around the goal line where shots are hard to come by. Kuznetsov on the second unit is largely wasted as there is not enough scoring talent on that unit for him to set up.

The result is two power play units playing without confidence and not producing while also allowing far too many shorthanded goals.

The verdict: Yes, the Caps have the offense to win the Cup.

In terms of the personnel, it is hard to get better than what the Caps have. The top two lines are loaded with talent and the fourth line is the best at what it does. The offense is lacking on the third line, but Reirden has found a role for it in which it can still have a positive impact on the game and its offensive production seems to be improving.

The only real concern is the power play, not only because it is completely ineffective but because the team is pressing so hard it has allowed five shorthanded goals, tied for the most in the league. As bad as it is, however, I think this is a case of frustration making things worse. With the personnel this team has, there is no reason for it to be producing at only 14.1-percent. Once they string a few goals together, things will turn around. I don’t think it will be among the most potent in the NHL, but I do think this is a low point and a natural progression will occur.

After the power play, however, it is hard to find a more potent offense than the one assembled in Washington.


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Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

The Capitals may not be participating in Stadium Series this year, but the team is embracing outdoor hockey around Washington for spirited game day fun.

The Caps are hosting Rock The Rink skates at The Wharf, Penatgon Row, Rockville Town Square and The Avenue at White Marsh on select game days from January to March 2020. Fans attending these events can wear Capitals jerseys or gear to get either $5 off admission or free skate rentals.

The Wharf

Jan. 18 at 1 p.m., Jan. 31 at 6 p.m., and Feb 17. at 1 p.m.

Transit Pier will boast a Capitals-paneled ice rink with an ice resurfacer, trivia contests, giveaways, along with a DJ. The Capitals Campire will also boast Adirondack chairs around a fire to roast marshmallows for smores in front of a 14-foot jumbotron screen to watch the Capitals games. 

Pentagon Row

Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. and March 9 at 6 p.m.

These skates will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants. The Caps games will also be on at surrounding bars. 

The Avenue at White March

Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.

This event will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants.

Rockville Town Square

Jan. 31 at 5:30 p.m. and March 5 at 6 p.m.

In addition to the above fun, Rockville native and Capitals hockey ambassador Haley Skarupa will be there on Jan. 31. You can watch the Capitals game at local bars as well. 

Fans attending these events or using local outdoor rinks this season are encouraged to post about it on social media by tagging @capitals and using the hashtag #RockTheRink to enter themselves for a chance to win prizes.

Caps slept through the first 40 minutes, they did not give Holtby much help though he was bad in his own right and Vrana sure did show something with the game-winning goal.

As for no penalties...not so much.